Minister for Foreign Affairs expresses concerns over conduct of Zimbabwe elections
Commenting on the outcome of the Zimbabwe parliamentary elections, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Dermot Ahern, T.D., noted that preliminary indications were that the election would result in the predicted victory for the ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe.
“These elections represented an important watershed in judging the commitment of President Mugabe's government to promote greater democracy, freedom and respect for the rule of law in Zimbabwe.”
“While there were undoubtedly some improvements in voting procedures compared to previous elections in Zimbabwe, the evidence provided by the conduct of the campaign and the events of polling day do not give any reason to believe that the Zimbabwean government has seriously attempted to comply, as it initially promised to do, with the guidelines for the conduct of democratic elections adopted by the regional SADC community last August.”
“I am seriously concerned, in particular, by the relatively high numbers of voters turned away because their names did not appear on the voter register, estimated by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission at between 8 and 10 per cent nationally. There is also disturbing evidence regarding the management of the postal vote and how this appears to have been concentrated in certain constituencies.”
“My Department will be conducting a detailed assessment of the election outcome in the coming days, based on the report of our Ambassador to Zimbabwe who observed the elections. We will also be consulting with our EU colleagues and considering the reports of those countries and organisations such as SADC who, unlike the EU and its members States, were officially invited by the Zimbabwean government to monitor the elections. While no definitive judgement can be made until these assessments are completed, there are already sufficient grounds for doubting the extent to which it will ultimately be possible to view these elections as free and fair”, stated the Minister.
The Minister stressed that the conduct of the election should not be seen in isolation from the general situation in the country. “Zimbabwe has fallen well short of implementing the kind of reforms in the area of democracy and human rights which the European Union and others in the international community have long called for. The EU very much wants to enjoy normal relationships with Zimbabwe, but the extent to which the Government of Zimbabwe is prepared to respect the rights of the people of Zimbabwe will remain the key determinant of our future relations.”
NOTE FOR EDITORS
Elections to the Zimbabwean Parliament took place on 31 March 2005. Voters went to the polls to elect 120 members of parliament in the 150-member legislature; the remaining thirty members are directly nominated by the President of Zimbabwe. Previous elections in 2000 and 2002 were marred by serious voting irregularities and violence principally directly against supporters of the main opposition party in Zimbabwe, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Neither the EU nor any of its Member Sates were invited by the Zimbabwean government to send external election observers. EU diplomats in Harare were, however, able to monitor the election. The Irish Ambassador to South Africa, who is also accredited to Zimbabwe, was similarly able to travel to Zimbabwe to observe the elections. Some thirty countries and regional organisations were invited to send official election observation teams though there appears to have been a deliberate attempt on the part of the Zimbabwean authorities not to invite observers from any country or organisation likely to be critical in its assessment.
An important benchmark for the European Union and its members in assessing the election outcome will be the degree of compliance by the Zimbabwean government with the Guidelines and Principles on the Holding of Democratic Elections adopted by the regional SADC (Southern Africa Development Community) group last August. Zimbabwe had initially stated it would comply fully with these Guidelines. The evidence so far available on the conduct of the campaign and of the vote, however, was that there was, at best, only limited compliance on the part of the Zimbabwean authorities.
Department of Foreign Affairs
1 April 2005